Monday, April 20, 2009

Mental health providers fear cuts

By Bethany Jaeger
While human service providers have long fought for more state funding, mental health and substance abuse providers who offer services at the community level say they need as much as $93 million to prevent thousands of people from losing access to critical services next year.

Frank Anselmo, chief executive officer of the Springfield-based Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois, said Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget proposes $26 million less than last year for mental health services and $12 million less for substance abuse services. The cuts have a cumulative effect, Anselmo added, because the state reimbursement rate for Medicaid providers doesn’t cover half of the cost of providing the services to needy clients.

The association surveyed providers throughout the state to ask what would happen if the legislature approved the cuts this spring. Providers reported that more than 16,000 Illinois residents could lose access to treatment in their communities by July 2010. And the nearly 30,000 people who do have access to treatment could receive reduced services.

Diane Knaebe, president of Heritage Behavioral Health Center in Decatur, said at a Statehouse news conference this morning that the agency could serve 400 fewer clients in Macon County next fiscal year and decrease services by at least 10 percent for existing clients if more funding didn’t come through.

Lora Thomas, executive director of the Illinois chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said saving money by not funding mental health services often causes untreated conditions to eventually demand costlier care in emergency rooms, prisons and nursing homes.

The Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois’ goal is to access existing state funds, increased federal reimbursement funding and new state revenues to help pay for mental health services, substance abuse services, backlogged Medicaid bills and health care for Illinois veterans. According to the association, about $35 million sat dormant in dedicated state funds during the last few years of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s administration and continues to be unused. The Illinois Department of Human Services had not responded to questions by the time of this post.

At least 10 senators of both political parties have signed on to a resolution, SJR 31, urging Quinn’s administration to tap into the unused state funds, as well as increased federal Medicaid reimbursements available through the federal stimulus package, to support mental health and substance abuse services. But the resolution is not binding.

If new revenue came into Illinois through a state income tax increase, community providers want part of it dedicated to human services. Anselmo said the group also supports the concept of increasing the sales tax on alcohol by 1 cent or 2 cents per alcoholic drink.

Watch for more on funding of mental health and other human services soon.

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